Collecting and Decorating with Native American Pottery


Whether you’re just starting a collection and want entry-level pieces or have a hunger for the real thing but not the pocket book, you have lots of options for finding treasure at a bargain. In this hub, I’ll share some of the tricks I’ve learned as the owner of an art gallery and from decorating my Santa Fe vacation rental. Pottery is definitely one of the things you’ll want if you’re decorating Santa Fe style. Along with Indian jewelry and Navajo rugs, Indian potter is one of my top five reasons to visit Santa Fe.

A pot from the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico.
A pot from the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico.

Starting Your Collection

Ah, the thrill of buying that first piece of authentic Native American pottery and discovering a new passion! Like any new art collector, you may feel overwhelmed by all there is to learn on the subject. There’s also the worry of getting ripped off or buying an outright fake while you’re training your eye. If you’re shopping the art galleries around the Plaza in Santa Fe, you can rest assured the pieces are what they claim to be. The sales staff is usually knowledgeable and equally passionate.

Books that are Great for Research and Decorating!

Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni
Southwestern Pottery: Anasazi to Zuni

Considered a "Must Have" by many collectors. An excellent resource filled with colorful images.

The Desert Southwest: Four Thousand Years of Life and Art
The Desert Southwest: Four Thousand Years of Life and Art

So much more than just pottery! A comprehensive look at the history of the Southwest that is enthralling.

Talking With the Clay: The Art of Pueblo Pottery
Talking With the Clay: The Art of Pueblo Pottery

Filled with interviews and the artists' own thoughts, this offers a more personal look into the world of modern potters.

Acoma & Laguna Pottery
Acoma & Laguna Pottery

Amazon also offers books on specific pueblos and styles as well as overviews. This is a beautiful book on one of my favorite styles.


For your first purchase, don’t be afraid to be impulsive. Yes, I’m going to cover ways to find bargains while shopping in Santa Fe, but never forget that art is emotional. If you see a piece of art or pottery that really speaks to you or will bring back good memories every time you look at it, go for it! The emotional connection and the memories are beyond price. If you’re going to start collecting, however...

Arm Yourself with Knowledge

You can learn about your new passion by a) visiting art galleries and asking lots of questions, or b) meeting fellow Native American art enthusiasts, or c) reading. I suggest doing all three. For reading, there’s a lot of information online but it’s hard to beat a good book for a lot of reasons.

Why Books vs. the Internet?

  • Books can be more reliable and comprehensive.
  • The information is organized better for in depth and repeated study.
  • AND hardcover books with beautiful jackets will complement your collection!

See the Side Bar for a few of My Top Picks --->

Complementing Your Collection with Books

This is the best way to stretch your collecting dollars. Plus, creating vignettes can make any collection more interesting. Since you’ll want items of various heights, shapes, and textures, books help pull that off in a number of ways. They also fill space and can make a small number of items look more impressive.

Stack a few books to elevate one or two objects in your collection. This gives weight to the grouping, helps connect the items, and allows you to get more variety of height.

Stand books on end to fill out a small collection. Or place a book face out behind or beside the grouping. A large, impressive book will take up space in a display case and create visual interest. A book with a stunning photo of a pot on the cover costs a fraction of an actual pot, but it brings some of the same design sensibility into your room. Mixing books with your collection also provides quick, unobtrusive information for guests to your home—like tags in a museum display.

Back to Building Your Collection: My Top Two Tips for Buying Pottery Without Paying Gallery Prices

1) Visit the pueblos. You’ll often find work by lesser known but wonderfully talented Indian artists. Plus, you get the thrill of buying the pot in the setting where it was made directly from the people who are keeping the craft alive.

Guides to the Pueblos of New Mexico

Pueblos of the Rio Grande: A Visitor's Guide
Pueblos of the Rio Grande: A Visitor's Guide

Product Description: " authoritative and colorful traveler's guide to the nineteen venerable pueblos of New Mexico. Written in consultation with pueblo community elders..." Excellent!

Native Roads: The Complete Motoring Guide to the Navajo and Hopi Nations, Newly Revised Edition
Native Roads: The Complete Motoring Guide to the Navajo and Hopi Nations, Newly Revised Edition

Go far beyond Northern New Mexico to the backroads that cover all of "Indian country." Have the passenger read out loud while you drive.

Frommer's Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque (Frommer's Complete Guides)
Frommer's Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque (Frommer's Complete Guides)

A solid resource for what to do and see closer to Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque. I've done the walking tour and chuckle at some of the accurate insight into locals.

Top 10 Santa Fe (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides)
Top 10 Santa Fe (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides)

Another solid guide book filled with images and suggestions on things to do in Northern New Mexico.


Excellent books for learning about the pueblos before you get there--->
Even paperback guide books can become part of your vignette to help tell the story of where you found parts of your collection. A very inexpensive way to add interest and fill up space.

2) Hit the consignment stores and yard sales. Santa Fe is a Mecca for this type of shopping. Go to Google and type in “consignment store santa fe” and you’ll see what I mean. If you’re in Santa Fe in the summer, pick up a paper and check out the yard sales. True Story: When I was decorating my Santa Fe vacation rental, I stropped at a yard sale and spotted a whole table FILLED with katchinas and small pots. My eyes popped open and I picked up three small katchinas and two pots to examine them and realized that, yes, they were the real deal. Thank goodness I had them in my hands because the woman who arrive a few seconds before me said, “I’ll take all of them.” Meaning everything I wasn’t holding. Dang it! If I’d only picked up more pieces before she said that! Still, I was thrilled with what I bought. I think I paid a grand total of $25. For 3 katchinas and two Acoma pots. They were more gift shop quality than gallery quality, but what a bargain!

Again, do your research starting with the books I’ve listed. Armed with knowledge, you can take advantage of opportunity when it drops in front of you.

Final Note

Never forget that buying Native America pottery is like any art purchase, you have to find your own balance between your heart’s desire and your pocket book. If you see a piece you like but it’s out of your price range, don’t be afraid to negotiate, even in a downtown gallery. How and where you buy a piece becomes part of the story behind it. So, come join the treasure hunt!

If you enjoyed this hub, check out my other hubs on Santa Fe.

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Comments 2 comments

quizzy 6 years ago

Good day. I am a volunteer for the Fine Arts Gallery in Mesquite, Nevada. We would like permission to use the design on the red/black/white pot featured next to the "Starting Your Collection" paragraph under "Collecting and Decorating with Native American Pottery 76." We would like to paint only part of the pot design on a door at the gallery. We are a non-profit, all volunteer organization and the design would not be used in any other context. Thank you.

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Santa Fe Gal 6 years ago Author

I'm not the artist of that pot, so I can't grant or deny permission to use the design. I know there are books, though, that show pottery designs, and you can use those designs as a guide for creating your own pottery. Good luck with the project. It sounds dramatic.

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